Rivers Cuomo: At 18, I moved to L.A. with my heavy metal band Avant Garde, which was very much influenced by Metallica. At 19, I got a job at Tower Records, and everything started to change very quickly. I started listening to the Velvet Underground, Pixies, early Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and also earlier music like the Beatles. Around that same time, Weezer started. I met them through co-workers at Tower and, one by one, we cut our hair and stopped doing the sweep picking and two-handed tapping. And we came up with The Blue Album.
But if I have to choose one song, it’s gonna have to be “Sliver”, because this other guy I worked with named Howard said, “Rivers, we’re going to play you this song by this new band Nirvana and we think you’re gonna like this.” It was just one of those things where, by the time it got through the first chorus, I was just running around the store. The music turned me on so much. It had the simplicity of the Velvet Underground in the structure and the chords and the lyrical theme—it was talking about family issues from this very innocent perspective. It had the melody and the major chord progression of the pop music I love, like ABBA, but also this sense of destructiveness that I had in me, and it came out in this new hybrid style.
Pitchfork: Did you ever cross paths with Kurt Cobain?
No, not once. When Weezer was making The Blue Album, that was right around the time In Utero came out. He died in April , and The Blue Album came out in May. We were on the same label, and it’s possible he could’ve heard it, but he probably had never even heard the name Weezer. It’s sad for me, because he’s probably my all-time hero, but at the same time, I’m kind of relieved, because he probably would’ve scorned us.
On October 11, 1990. Nirvana introduced a new drummer. His name was Dave Grohl.
While working for Cobain’s wife Courtney Love, Tom Grant, best known for his unproven theory that Kurt Cobain was murdered, was given access to Cobain’s suicide note and used her fax machine to make a photocopy, which has since been widely distributed.
After studying the note, Grant believed that it was actually a letter written by Cobain announcing his intent to leave Courtney Love, Seattle, and the music business. Grant asserts that the lines at the very bottom of the note, separate from the rest, are the only parts implying suicide. While the official report on Cobain’s death concluded that Cobain wrote the note, Grant claims that the official report does not distinguish the questionable lines from the rest of the note and simply draws the conclusion across its entirety. One of the biggest ‘what if?’ questions in music, Grant believes there are far more questions than answers.
And so it goes.
Speakings from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the Punk Rock 101 Courses over the years, it’s my first introduction to the, shall we say ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has been proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to, as well as creating music, along with really writing something for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things, for example when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins. It doesn’t affect me in the way which it did for Freddie Mercury, who seemed to love and relish the love and admiration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is, I can’t fool you, any of you. It simply isn’t fair to you, or to me. The worst crime can think of would be to pull people off by faking it, pretending as if I’m having one 100% fun. Sometimes I feel as though I should have a punch-in time clock before I walk out on-stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it, and I do, God believe me, I do, but it’s not enough. I appreciate the fact that I, and we, have affected, and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of the narcisists who only appreciate things when they’re alone. I’m too sensitive, I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm. But, what’s sad is our child. On our last three tours, I’ve had a much better appreciation of all the people I’ve known personally, and as fans of our music. But I still can’t get out the frustration, the guilt, and the sympathy I have for everybody. There is good in all of us, and I simply love people too much. So much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little sensitive unappreciative pisces Jesus man! why don’t you just enjoy it? I dont know! I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy, and a daughter who reminds me to much of what I use to be. full of love and joy, every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable self destructive, deathrocker she become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along and have empathy. Empathy only because I love and feel for people too much I guess. Thank you from the pit of my burning nauseas stomach for your letters and concern during the last years. I’m too much of a neurotic moody person and I don’t have the passion anymore, so remember, it’s better to burn out, than to fade away. Peace, love, empathy, Kurt Cobain.
Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar.
Please keep going Courtney
for her life which will be so much happier without me.
I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU!”
Back in 91, before all the glitz and graphics and manipulatively salacious voiceovers, all MTV had were great bands, board games and a huge amount of lard. That’s no clever wordplay. MTV literally had a ton of Crisco on hand. Or so it would seem from the very lo-fi production below, in which Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic strips down to briefs and gets a full body Crisco massage from Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl, before playing slippery Twister with Smashing Pumpkins.
From Spin Magazine:
Australian radio station Triple J has found one of the most unique Nirvana interviews ever. They published audio of a 1992 interview with the band that had pretty much been lost in the ether since, and thanks to the trio’s exhaustion with sudden Nevermind fame, the results are awkward and amazing.
The chat happened during Nirvana’s only tour of Australia, when they headlined the first Big Day Out festival. “That chat was one for the ages — but for all the wrong reasons,” Triple J writers. “Tired, sick, and also just sick of the rigmarole of being the biggest band in the world, Kurt and bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic gave one of the most awkward and confrontational interviews we’ve ever had on triple j.”
Confrontational is certainly one way to put it. They somewhat play along with host Jen Oldershaw’s questions and meet a few with mostly silence, and at one point, Cobain takes a scissor to the microphone. Apparently, Cobain kept his head on the desk of the studio for a portion of the interview and also does a Tom Waits-like voice when talk about vocal issues.
This is part 30 of an ongoing series where the kind folk of the music business reveal their favourite album of all time.
Ask people in the music industry the seemingly simple and straightforward question, “What is your favourite album of all time?” and you’ll find that it’s not always easy. After all, my industry peers listen to hundreds of albums a month – thousands of songs during that time. Because the question isn’t the best album of all time – the one that’s made them the most money in sales – but the one release they personally can’t live without, that one title they have two copies of in several formats, in case one breaks. It’s also about that album that for them has the best back stories and the one that has the most meaning in their lives.
Alan Cross, Broadcaster, Musicologist
Desolation Boulevard, The Sweet
Back when my world didn’t extend much beyond my bedroom in my parents’ basement, I spent hours listening obsessively to about a dozen albums. Out of all those records–which included all the usual suspects like Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin IV– Desolation Boulevard got the biggest workout. I listened to both sides of the album as I wrote ever single essay for grade 9 through to final year of university. Every. Single. Time. There are actually two versions of the album (I have both, of course) but the North American version is superior. Side one features compositions by the songwriting team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn while side two are all Sweet originals. Ballroom Blitz” (Chapman-Chinn) and “Fox on the Run” (written by the band) were the big hits from the album, but other tracks also resonated. For example, “AC/DC” was covered by both Joan Jett and Vince Neil. And Mick Tucker’s playing (including on songs like “No, You Don’t”) were a big part on me wanting to learn how to play the drums. Yes, it’s a bit glammy and the chipmunk vocal effects grate on some people, but I still love it.
Lily Kuo, minoredinmusic.tumblr.com
Is This It, The Strokes
Is This It is the album that taught me how albums are meant to be listened to: in one sitting, one track after another, paying full attention. I remember hearing the killer singles off Is This It first; “Last Nite” and “Someday” still being some of my favorite tracks by The Strokes. It wasn’t actually until at least a few years after the album release that I even bought the CD – and when I listened to it on my huge boombox, I remember thinking “Woah, THIS is rock. I LOVE rock.” The tracks on the LP flowed from one to another seamlessly – not like every track sounded the same by any means, just that there was a central idea, and BOOM, there it was for me to hear. This is honestly one of the few albums that I will put on and listen to in its entirety, not in the background, but as a piece of musical artistry that I enjoy and learn from. Julian Casablancas is really and truly talented as a songwriter, musician, singer… person. The admiration I have for him stems from both deep, undying love, and intellectual and artistic inspiration. A couple first listens turned in to hundreds of listens, and I’m sure now it’s up there close to a thousand listens. I’ve still yet to own the vinyl LP, but I’m looking for that awesome condition international release version with the album cover that I think is one of the best of all time, with the alt-sexy gloved hand and hip, and with “New York City Cops” instead of the immediately-post 9/11 version with “When It Started”. What would really make my life is if I could hear this album in its entirety, live. Tell me that idea doesn’t give you a little petite mort… “Someday”, baby, “Someday”.
Dustin Blumhagen, writer for thepunksite.com, New Noise Magazine, Country Standard Time, Rice & Bread
Left & Leaving, Weakerthans
As a teen I found solace in rebellion against my surroundings. Music provided an escape from the mundane surroundings of the rural Alberta farming community I felt trapped in. California skate punk was the soundtrack to my school days, as I dreamed about surfing and valley girls a world away from the vast prairies that imprisoned me. Through a gifted copy of a Fat Wreck Chords’ sampler, I discovered the political punk group Propagandhi, who opened my eyes to human rights, activism and world issues in an age when the internet was still in its’ infancy. When Propagandhi’s bassist left the group to form the Weakerthans, I tracked down their debut, Fallow. The folk punk sounds were a departure from the skate punk that introduced me to John K. Samson, but I quickly fell in love with his lyrical poetry and folk influences. But it wasn’t until the release of Left & Leaving in 2000 that I discovered what would become my favorite album of all time. The folk tinged pop punk concept album centered around the dissolution of a relationship, which perfectly paralleled my emotional state at the time. Leaving behind high school and venturing out into the wide world, I discovered a seed of longing for the comforts of the home that I had rebelled against for so long. The simple, slowed down lifestyle of the Canadian prairies wasn’t found in the bustling city, where -40C winter walks were narrated by Samson’s nasally croon. The album carried me through various heartbreaks, a traumatic divorce and nights spent shivering as I slept alone in my car on a random city side street or the dark night I stood on the High Level Bridge, contemplating stepping off into the frigid river below. But there was an undercurrent of hope that flickered beneath the surface of the songs and during my darkest days the expression of life given to these characters through song urged me to keep going. This is a collection of musical poetry written for all of those who have experienced loss. It is for those who have been left and for those who have done the leaving. The music itself is wonderful. There are mournful songs that crawl along in anguish and frustrated rock songs reminiscent of The Replacements. But in the end, it is Samson’s heartfelt lyrics that keep drawing me back to this album. The images he creates are so perfectly crafted that they are simultaneously individually owned by his vivid characters and completely universal in their themes. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to attend a student journalism conference in Winnipeg, a city that I had explored thoroughly through The Weakerthans before ever setting foot on its’ streets. At an evening gathering at Lo Pub I wandered to the washroom in my ever present Propagandhi hoodie and noticed John K. Samson sitting alone at the bar. It was an intensely surreal moment; randomly encountering the artist who had such a profound impact on my life, in the city that had been built in my mind entirely through his words. His words had literally saved my life. I silently walked right by…
Jacob Moore, Complex Magazine
Unplugged in New York, Nirvana
When I was in middle school, I was a total poser. I became obsessed with Kurt Cobain and I copied him relentlessly. I grew my hair long, dyed it different colors, wore those alien eye-shaped sunglasses, put patches on my ripped jeans, and started listening to the Pixies. But for all the superficial imitating I did, I also took a lot from Kurt as a human being. And Kurt Cobain was a magnificent human being. I learned compassion, acceptance, and open-mindedness in a way I hadn’t known before. I learned that there was a way to be rebellious and angry at the world—something that came naturally to me—but to also embrace your sensitive side. I went through a lot of phases after middle school. For a while, I listened to nothing but the Grateful Dead. Soon after, it was exclusively underground hip-hop. I was all over the place, and I’m still in the process of figuring out myself and the world around me. But I carry the things I learned from Kurt with me, and throughout al these years and all these phases, Nirvana is one of the few things that never feels any less potent. For me, Unplugged in New York is the perfect symbol of everything Kurt represented. It’s heartbreaking, chilling, beautiful, and raw. And it’s one album that I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Scot Kyle, Paradigm Shift Cafe, CILU Radio
Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons
Seminal influence to the whole country-rick fusion so important to understanding the revolutionary movement and vibe of the 60s, not to mention the utter genius of his combination with Emmy-Lou Harris. Also and this point is highly personal, but I think crucial to understanding the spiritual revolution of the 60s, Parsons’ music was influenced by his ingestion of mescaline (the active ingredient int he Peyote cactus).
Director Brett Morgen’s long-gestating documentary on Kurt Cobain has found a home at HBO.
It is the first documentary to be made with the cooperation of Cobain’s family and will include never-before-seen home movies, recordings, artwork and photography, plus material from his personal archives, family archives and songbooks. The film features dozens of Nirvana songs and performances as well as previously unheard Cobain originals. Cobain committed suicide 20 years ago at the age of 27.
Cobain’s daughter with Courtney Love, Frances Bean Cobain, is an executive producer with Larry Mestel and David Byrnes.